Sub-session 1 The Epistemology of Evolutionary Debunking Arguments
Several recent discussions question whether there is a sound epistemic principle to support evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) that purport to debunk the justification of our moral beliefs. Some, for example, claim that evolutionary debunking arguments raise problems, if they do, about the modal security or modal safety of our moral beliefs. Others claim, in contrast, that evolutionary explanations of our moral beliefs are evidence of error. Yet others think that they reveal a disagreement problem about our moral beliefs. The aim of this sub-session will be to deepen our understanding of the epistemic principle that undergirds debunking arguments that target the justification of our moral beliefs.
On Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Against Moral Realism
Evolutionary debunking arguments against moral realism seem to generalize in an obvious way. They rest on the idea that our moral belief-forming tendencies have been heavily influenced by evolutionary forces, which track adaptiveness rather than truth. But then, the idea is, unless the moral truth is somehow psychologically constituted – unless moral realism is false – it would be a coincidence if our moral belief-forming tendencies were truth-tracking. So unless we think moral realism is false, we have reason to doubt that our moral beliefs are true. The generalization is obvious. Since we are evolved beings, our belief-forming tendencies in general are at least in part a result of evolution. But since evolution tracks adaptiveness rather than truth, it would be a coincidence if these tendencies were truth-tracking. So if we are realists about a given subject matter, we have reason to doubt that our beliefs about that subject matter are true – whether they be moral beliefs, empirical beliefs about the world around us, or whatever. There is an obvious strategy one could use to respond to this generalized evolutionary debunking argument. The basic idea is that, other things being equal, and at least for certain subject matters, it is adaptive to have true beliefs. Let’s call this the “adaptive truth” strategy. In an earlier paper (Copp 2008), I used a special case of this strategy to argue against the evolutionary debunking argument against moral realism. Sharon Street objected, however, that my use of the strategy in the moral case was question-begging (Street 2008). But if so, it would appear, on similar grounds, that the use of the strategy to respond to the generalized debunking argument would also be question-begging. But I doubt this is so. Evolutionary theory surely does not give us a basis to reject realism about physical things like tigers and cliffs. Street contended that, for realists, the moral case is different from the general case because, in the view of moral realists, moral facts are normative in the strong sense that they are objectively binding. But it is unclear why the normativity of moral facts would make it less likely to be adaptive to have true moral beliefs than to have true beliefs about tigers and cliffs. So it is not clear why the adaptive truth strategy cannot be successful in defending moral realism against the evolutionary debunking argument. This paper explores these issues. It aims to show that the adaptive truth strategy is successful in defending moral realism.
The Reliability Challenge in Moral Epistemology
The Reliability Challenge to moral non-naturalism has received substantial attention recently in the literature on moral epistemology. While the popularity of this particular challenge is a recent development, the challenge has a long history, as the form of this challenge can be traced back to a skeptical challenge in the philosophy of mathematics raised by Paul Benacerraf. The current Reliability Challenge is widely regarded as the most sophisticated way to develop this skeptical line of thinking, making the Reliability Challenge the strongest epistemic challenge to normative non-naturalism. In this paper, I argue that the innovations that have occurred since Benacerraf’s statement of the challenge are misconceived and confused in a number of ways. The Reliability Challenge is not the strongest epistemic challenge to normative non-naturalism. The strongest challenge comes from the fact that there is a kind of causal condition on knowledge that non-natural facts cannot satisfy.
The Bifurcation Problem for Subjectivist-Idealism about Undercutting Defeat
When you gain new information that reduces the justification of your initially justified belief that P, without giving you a reason to believe that ~P, we say that P is undercut. In fallibilist epistemologies, undercutting defeat plays a crucial role. However, the conditions for undercutting defeat are ill understood. Objectivist claim that you can believe to have a defeater but fail to have one, and vice versa. Subjectivist-idealists, in contrast, take the subject’s perspective seriously by counting believed defeaters as actual defeaters. So, according to subjectivist-idealism, for any subject S, and any of S’s beliefs B, if either S or an ideal version of S takes B to be undermined, B is undermined. This paper aims at showing that subjectivist-idealism should be rejected by raising two novel objections to the view. Subjectivist-idealism introduces a bifurcation in the concept of undermining defeat: there are two kinds of defeat, defeaters believed by actual agents and defeaters believed by ideal agents. The first problem is that the explanation of the defeating power for each kind of defeater implies that the other kind of defeater should be epistemically impotent. The second problem is that the bifurcation ultimately does not allow subjectivist-idealists to determine whether a belief is undermined or not. Taken together, these problems suggest that subjectivist-idealism is not a good view of undermining defeat. There might be several concepts of undermining defeat, of course, and I conclude by arguing that the kind of undermining defeat relevant in the metaethical debate about evolutionary debunking is not subjectivist-idealist. In conclusion, subjectivist-idealism about undercutting defeat should be rejected.